Title Page

To Sheona

Preface and Acknowledgments

In this history of American literature, I have tried to be responsive to the immense changes that have occurred over the past thirty years in the study of American literature. In particular, I have tried to register the plurality of American culture and American writing: the continued inventing of communities, and the sustained imagining of nations, that constitute the literary history of the United States. My aim here has been to provide the reader with a reasonably concise but also coherent narrative that concentrates on significant and symptomatic writers while also registering the range and variety of American writing. My focus has necessarily been on major authors and the particular texts that are generally considered to be their most important or representative work. I have also, however, looked at less central or canonical writers whose work demands the attention of anyone wanting to understand the full scope of American literature: work that illustrates important literary or cultural trends or helps to measure the multicultural character of American writing. In sum, my aim has been to offer as succinct an account as possible of the major achievements in American literature and of American difference: what it is that distinguishes the American literary tradition and also what it is that makes it extraordinarily, fruitfully diverse.

I have accumulated many debts in the course of working on this book. In particular, I would like to thank friends at the British Academy, including Andrew Hook, Jon Stallworthy, and Wynn Thomas; colleagues and friends at other universities, among them Kasia Boddy, Susan Castillo, Henry Claridge, Richard Ellis, the late Kate Fullbrook, Mick Gidley, Sharon Monteith, Judie Newman, Helen Taylor, and Nahem Yousaf; and colleagues and friends in other parts of Europe and in Asia and the United States, especially Saki Bercovitch, Bob Brinkmeyer, the late George Dekker, Jan Nordby Gretlund, Lothar Honnighausen, Bob Lee, Marjorie Perloff, and Waldemar Zacharasiewicz. Among my colleagues in the Department of Literature, I owe a special debt of thanks to Herbie Butterfield and Owen Robinson; I also owe special thanks to my many doctoral students who, over the years, have been gainfully employed in trying to keep my brain functioning. Sincere thanks are also due to Emma Bennett, the very best of editors, at Blackwell for steering this book to completion, to Theo Savvas for helping so much and so efficiently with the research and preparation, to Nick Hartley for his informed and invaluable advice on illustrations, and to Jack Messenger for being such an excellent copyeditor. On a more personal note, I would like to thank my older daughter, Catharine, for her quick wit, warmth, intelligence, and understanding, and for providing me with the very best of son-in-laws, Ricky Baldwin, and two perfect grandsons, Izzy and Sam; my older son, Ben, for his thoughtfulness, courage, commitment, and good company; my younger daughter, Jessica, for her lively intelligence, grace, and kindness, as well as her refusal to take anything I say on trust; and my younger son, Jack, who, being without language, constantly reminds me that there are other, deeper ways of communicating. Finally, as always, I owe the deepest debt of all to my wife, Sheona, for her patience, her good humor, her clarity and tenderness of spirit, and for her love and support, for always being there when I need her. Without her, this book would never have been completed: which is why, quite naturally, it is dedicated to her.